As Mother’s Day approached this year, I mentally recounted, as I do every year, how long it had been since my mother had passed away—nearly 19, and I felt a sudden pang, as that cruelly-ordinary number suddenly made my mom feel so very far away. I felt a familiar wave of sadness, and a soul-deep longing for her, for her face…her voice…her smile, her wisdom, but—most of all—for her incredible, unconditional love.
I continued my reverie, envisioning the warm smile that would have lit up my mother’s blue eyes, as she opened the card I would have bought for her. There would always have been a special, hand-written message inside, a tradition begun when, as a first-grader, I’d awkwardly printed my first heart-felt “I love you,” nearly sixty years ago.
My thoughts wandered back over the years to those early days, when my mom’s lavish praises of my every artistic endeavor fostered my lifetime love, and eventual careers, in art education and freelance sign-making. To say that she had been “the wind beneath my wings” would be a huge understatement.
My mother would not have ever been described by casual onlookers as a dominant-type personality. At five foot three, and having grown up as a middle child of two sisters, next to a convent, and then, on a farm, my mom had always been shy and soft-spoken. She had never learned to ride a bicycle, nor swim or drive a car. Yet from my earliest recollections, my mother had always been unwavering in teaching us, her “brood of seven” as she proudly referred to us, about what she believed to be right and wrong. And when a situation warranted, she never hesitated to “get in our faces” if need be, to convince us of an error in our thinking, without ever raising her voice, even when we had all eventually grown to tower over her in our physical statures.
Being a stay-at-home mom, my mother always seemed to possess the greatest of patience. I can never once recall her telling me that she was “too busy.” My mom always took the the time to reallylisten to each us, giving us the feeling that we were valued as individuals. And, she later treated her fifteen grandchildren the same way.
And my mother was a great motivator. She tirelessly guided us in the development of our sometimes fanciful ideas, encouraging us to develop them more fully, by asking great questions. Mom never belittled any of us, but always graciously respected us when we expressed our often strongly-held opinions. And then, more often than not, she would excitedly challenge us to develop various plans of action, to implement or defend our ideas. She even provided great examples of this to us.
Once, after growing concerned that the primary teen activity in our little town was “driving around,” my normally meek and reticent Mom approached the local police department and the town council about coming up with some alternatives. But, after receiving vague and bewildered responses, she took it upon herself to mount a fund drive to refurbish the local roller skating rink, oversaw its completion, and even helped out by volunteering her time, to supervise the kids who frequented it after it opened.
Throughout my life, Mom was always lavish in her praise, bolstering my courage, and filling me with a self-confidence that she had, seemingly, never experienced herself. Way back in the third grade, I had confidently marched straight from the school bus into the principal’s office, to introduce myself on my first day at a new school, since Mom didn’t drive and couldn’t be there to walk me in by the hand. And because of her, I wasn’t afraid to try new things, like diving or ice skating, riding a horse, or shooting a gun and going hunting, or starting my first business: selling seeds & greeting cards, although she herself never did any of those things.
From her always-loving and supportive confidence in me, I also learned to seldom fear the reactions of others, when taking a stand about something. In high school, on a day that I’ll never forget, I somehow found the boldness to defy a school-wide sit-in, because I didn’t agree with the leaders of the “in-group” about a then-volatile issue (now forgotten).
One way that even a casual observer would described my dear mother, would be “warm and kind.” And to those of us who knew her well, she will always remain as the most unconditionally-loving person we will ever have the privilege to have known. She had always taught us that everyone was deserving of our respect, and to never ridicule or look down on anyone, especially the handicapped or oppressed. One example she gave was that if we were ever to see a drunk on the street, we were to address him as “Sir.”
My dear mom never met a stranger, as the saying goes. She could easily strike up a conversation with a sales clerk or a delivery man, sharing compliments, or anecdotes, and even pictures of each other’s respective children or grandchildren.
Friends and spouses of her children were always cordially treated, and graciously welcomed and accepted, by my wonderful and unassuming mom. And when any of us or our cohorts messed up, she was always right there, listening, lecturing, or patching up, physically or emotionally, as needed. So, our house became the one where all the kids in the neighborhood invariably gathered, feeling welcomed and accepted without question.
To Mom, traditions were very important. Our birthdays were always celebrated. And holidays were her favorite times of year—especially Christmas. She scrimped and saved throughout each year, ferreting away multiple gifts for every one of us, AND practically everyone we knew. If we knew you, she knew you, AND loved you, and that was that. You were on the list. And you didn’t just get a basket of perfumed products or a tie you’d never wear. She carefully chose something special for each person. She loved celebrating love!
One Christmas tradition Mom loved was our family get-together trips to the mall. There might be over twenty of us, including almost a dozen grandchildren, laughing as we walked around, taking in the sights. And a special highlight of the adventure always included ending up at the arcade. While the other adults were usually exhausted, my mother would join the grandkids, handing out quarters and cheering them on, even including some coaching tips. “Hit ’em again! Look out for that one over there!” She loved the games as much as the kids did. If she was tired, she never let on.
Although we kids said, and did, and wrote many, many things to show our love to her in return, one tradition stands out in my mind. Every Saturday, for years, all of us kids would let Mom sleep late, while we cleaned up the entire house (our messes, of course), and fixed her a pancake breakfast in bed. She was always happy with our “Saturday Surprise,” week after week, month after month, year after year. I’m not sure when we stopped, but I miss it, as I’m sure my sisters and brothers all do, too.
This year, my grown daughter has continued the “fixing breakfast for Mom” tradition, by fixing me biscuits and gravy with crisp bacon, just the way I like them. My daughter is a lot like my a Mom, in that she is quite shy on the exterior. But, beneath her seeming aloofness, beats the heart of someone who is ruthlessly-devoted to those she cares about.
And she, like her beloved grandmother, is also a great encourager to her friends and family, although she herself, like my Mom, prefers to remain in the background.
In my daughter, I see the incredible legacy of kindness and devoted love from my dearest heart of a mother, for which I thank God every day.
Thank you, Mom!